... here is Cecil again
I decided to select Cecil for 2017 New Year. This was a story I wrote ten years
ago. I can still see his beaming face and feel the warmth as he seemed always
happy to see me. A word, Cecil, has enormous power. Here it is again.
I did not know it then, but Cecil behind the counter was to become one of the
best friends I ever had. Cecil, I’d guess was in his late 50’s. He was a fairly
large man with a big gut that stretched his ever-present suspenders. His white
hair was thin that seemed patted on his head, not combed. His glasses were thick
and set upon his nose just a little above his perpetual smile. He was as open and
jolly as his brother, Eric, was morose. Cecil was a Canadian who, along with his
brother, owned and operated the variety store. If no one was in the store, Cecil
could be seen at a desk through a doorway, writing in a notebook with stubs of
pencils he harbored. He said he liked writing historical things, sometimes what
he remembered and often, about politics. He said writing was a way to hold onto
things. After I got to know Cecil better, I asked if I could read some of what he
was writing. He put me off, saying that someday when his work was cleaned up
I might take a look. I visited with Cecil in his store from the time I was 10 or 11
until even after I left the U.S. Navy in 1952 when I was 22. I never did get a
look at what he was writing.
Years later I was reminded of Cecil’s kind of secretive writing by the story
Joseph Mitchell wrote, “Joe Gould’s Secret”, about Joe Gould’s Oral History
that was never found. My attraction to this much older man was that he
genuinely liked me. More importantly, he took me seriously as if I really
mattered. He wanted to know about me. He wanted to know what I thought and
felt about things. It was easy to talk about things that I would never bring
up at home. Girls, for instance. In the 8th grade I really liked Norma. I was
too shy to talk with her. Besides, she was one of the smartest kids in the school
and I was at the bottom.
One day I decided to tell Cecil about my secret longing for Norma. Cecil said he
really understood how I felt and helped to plan and to finance a strategy to
approach Norma. The idea was to find out if she was interested in any of the
movies playing at the Granada in Malden Square. Norma lived just across the
street from Cecil’s store. The next time she came to buy bread at his store,
Cecil asked offhandedly if she’d seen any movies lately. Norma said, as Cecil
reported to me with delight, she hoped to see “Dark Victory” at the Granada. It
was a tragically romantic story with Betty Davis and George Brent. Armed with
that information and bolstered by Cecil’s encouragement with the money for the
bus and movie, I asked Norma if she would go with me to the movies. To my
great pleasure she did not hesitate a bit and said, “Sure, when should we go?”
I was pretty much at a loss for words as we rode the trackless trolley to Malden
Square. Norma liked to talk, though, so she did most of it. I can’t remember
what she talked about I just remember listening most of the time. We sat in
the balcony of the Granada Theater. The balcony in those days was thought to be
the most romantic spot. I sat on Norma’s left. After a while I put my right arm
around her and, thankfully, Norma moved a little closer to me. I was in kind of
a heavenly daze, not knowing what to do next. As I barely watched the movie, I
made my mind up that just before the movie ended I would kiss Norma. I did
just that, smack on her lips, to the astonishment of us both. Then, Norma
laughed and giving me another quick peck on the cheek, thanked me for taking
her to the movie.(I suppose it’s still true that young females develop aplomb and
social grace long before young males?)
As far as I know, Cecil never married. He had girl friends, we knew. There was
a phone booth in Cecil’s store, just to the left, inside the door. On many
occasions, much to the consternation of some of the patrons, Cecil could be
overheard on the phone speaking to Mary, a woman he dated. He was far more
interested in his lover than the store. People would walk out in exasperation.
Cecil more often left the phone booth door open, speaking audibly, seeming not
to care who heard what. Every once in a while he would close the door for
privacy. More often he seemed proud and happy to parade his romance, saying
yes dear and no dear to Mary on the other end. Cecil was a romantic, far more
interested in people and writing than in the business world. On many a day when
I would stopby Cecil’s store to talk he would invite me to have a bottle of tonic
and sometimes a small pineapple pie that I loved. As I drank the tonic and ate
the pie, Cecil seemed to enjoy trying to find out from me what meaning I was
making of the world. He might ask what I thought of FDR as if my thought as a
teenager might matter.
Later, in High School, I sought Cecil’s counsel about another of my romances.
At 16, I had a crush on Ricky. Ricky and I would take walks on a summer
evening and sometimes sit on a couch and neck in a house where one of the
other girls was baby-sitting. On such a night Ricky and I were deeply involved
in kissing for several minutes when the heel of my left hand came to rest on
the back of her right breast. During that moment I felt a mysterious, joyous
feeling surge through me that captured my breath for a moment. Ricky tensed
for a second or two, but did not move as we kept kissing. Shortly, I felt
like I was doing something I shouldn’t and moved my hand.
Why was it, I asked Cecil, something beautiful that happened should be thought
of as dirty? At that time, there were two kinds of girls, clean virtuous or dirty
slum bags. If you dared to do any sex at all it was with slum bags, never the
virtuous. How is it that touching a girl’s soft breast felt so joyfully virtuous,
when I should have felt rotten about, I asked Cecil? Cecil smiled and said
something like welcome to sensuality. He went on to say what a marvelous
discovery I had made and how much pleasure it would give me in the years to
come. It is one of the most mysterious and beautiful of human experiences.
Cecil said that there was nothing dirty about physical lovemaking. The key
to lovemaking, Cecil said, is mutual love and respect. He said, too, that
sex is something to be grown into. “Don’t be too much in a hurry; sex will
wait for you,” Cecil said.
It was not too many months later that I began thinking about joining the Navy. I
was bored in school, not accomplishing very much. As that idea continued to
take shape, I decided to ask Cecil what he thought about me joining the Navy.
I think I thought he would laugh about the idea. Instead, Cecil asked me
questions about my idea. Why did I want to join the Navy? What would I get
out of it? I said something like I felt in a rut and a change might pull me
out of it. Never once did Cecil try to talk me out of my idea, but rather
explored the idea with me. It was this talk that established my resolve to
join. Cecil wished me the best of luck.
I did not see Cecil again until 1952 after I had left the Navy. I drove to his
store and was very surprised to find him still there. Cecil did not look much
different than I remembered and greeted me warmly. We talked for an hour or
so, between brief sales he had to make. Cecil said he could tell by the way
I talked that I had grown up. He said that the Navy sure seemed to have gotten
me out of my rut. This was the last time I saw Cecil. Maybe this was my way
of leaving my boyhood behind?
It has been fifty years since my last visit with Cecil. The best part of writing
this story about Cecil brings the realization of how important he was in my life.
From these distant years I so much better appreciate his deep interest in persons,
his non-judgmental, exploratory manner that I learned at Cecil’s knee. I now
also better appreciate how he valued me for which I owe enduring love and respect.
Originally printed April 06,2007..
January 6, 2017